GUWAHATI, March 3 - Eliminating the menace of illicit liquor, or any sort of liquor consumption among the tea garden communities depends on evolving and implementing effective strategies by involving the women and educated youth of these communities.
This was an observation made by Pranab Kumar Sarma, a former superintending manager of Tezpore Tea Company Ltd. Sarma during his tenure at the tea company had launched a drive to eradicate liquor drinking habits among the tea workers of his company. He had involved the district administration and the State Prohibition Council too in the said drive. The drive succeeded to a great extent on generating awareness among the womenfolk of the tea communities and their children on the health hazards associated with liquor consumption, Sarma said.
Talking to this newspaper, Sarma said when the British tea planters imported the tea garden labourers from outside the State, the British planters encouraged them to drink country-made liquor. Incidentally, some tea community tribes brought the liquor-making tradition along with them for their family consumption.
By the 1970’s, the practice of preparing illicit liquor, locally called sulai, was introduced by some unscrupulous elements for their commercial gain in the peripheral areas of the State’s tea estates.
The home-made traditional liquor requires four to five days for fermentation. Illicit liquor makers started adding urea and other chemicals to expedite the fermentation process so that they can complete the fermentation process within two to three days.
When this liquor replaced the traditional home-made brew, gradually it started surfacing that the labourers, who used to consume this new brew regularly, started suffering from some serious diseases, which affected their kidneys, liver etc., vital organs, Sarma said.
“While I was the Superintending Manager of Tezpore Tea Company Limited, I could feel the gravity of the situation and reported the developments to the district administration and Excise Department. They did take prompt action. But the business of illicit liquor continued flourishing in the peripheral areas of the tea estates.
“During that period, I had the opportunity to take up the issue with the leaders of the State Prohibition Council. At that time, Late Satis Chandra Kakati, a former Editor of The Assam Tribune was the Chairman of the State Prohibition Council. He agreed to visit the gardens to explain to the workers the ill-effects of liquor. He suggested that the women workers of the tea estates should be made aware of the lurking menace of illicit liquor and thus to motivate them to persuade their male partners or male members of their families to give up drinking of illicit liquor.
“Late Kakati also advised that in this respect, the students of the tea garden communities may also play a vital role,” said Sarma.
Nowadays there is a women’s club in every garden and every year a large number of boys and girls are studying in schools, colleges and universities. These boys and girls can contribute to improve the overall social atmosphere of their respective gardens.
Consumption of liquor has become a curse for the tea garden communities, specially their male members have become the worst victim of addiction. It is also leading to steep increase in the number of cases of absenteeism in the tea estates, which is ultimately resulting in decreased productivity of the tea estates. This is a big concern for the tea industry and for the society as well.
Since the tea garden labourers have a sense of belongingness to their estates, it will be easy to stop illicit liquor in their respective gardens if a well-planned strategy is formulated and implemented in this respect, opined Sarma.